Navigant Research Blog

New Opportunities in the Urban Energy Cloud

Eric Woods — January 2, 2018

The importance of cities to meeting global climate targets is undisputed. Since the COP21 Paris Agreement, more and more cities are joining early leaders like Copenhagen and Stockholm in pledging to become carbon neutral cities. Boston and London, for example, have both recently announced the goal of becoming zero carbon cities by 2050. To achieve such ambitious goals, cities will need to have implemented major changes to their energy systems by 2030. And given the speed of urban planning processes and infrastructure programs, cities and their partners need to instigate many of these projects within the next 3-5 years.

This transformation will touch every aspect of city services and infrastructure, including energy generation and distribution, heating and cooling systems, building energy efficiency, transportation, water and waste management, and the efficiency of city services such as street lighting. At the same time, city operations are being transformed by digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), smart buildings, artificial intelligence, robotics, and automated vehicles.

A new Navigant white paper, Navigating the Urban Energy Transformation, looks at the critical elements of the emerging city energy landscape and the intersection with the radical changes that Navigant characterizes as the Energy Cloud. As the City of Madison is showing, the transformation of the energy sector provides the bedrock for the creation of the low carbon cities of the future. This convergence of urban innovation and the energy transformation makes smart cities one of the key combinatorial platforms for the Energy Cloud.

The opportunities this creates for utilities and other energy sector plays is particularly evident in the building and transport sectors. A zero carbon city will need to address the role of fossil fuels in space heating and in transportation. Improvements in energy efficiency and the shift to renewable resources are essential steps but, more profoundly, the much closer connection between buildings and transportation and the energy grid will lay the foundation for a new Urban Energy Cloud:

  • Building in the Energy Cloud: The extension of building systems from standalone applications focused on the operation of a single building to hubs within a wider network of energy and environmental monitoring systems will be one of the most dramatic changes in the technical infrastructure of the city. Navigant Research estimates that only 0.5% of the commercial building stock globally is actively participating in the energy system today, but by 2026, more than 9% will be involved. This development will create new roles and opportunities for all players in the sector, including utilities.
  • The age of low carbon mobility: The decarbonization of urban transportation fleets is also offering many opportunities for utilities. EVs will be the single largest addition of energy demand to the power grid in many nations of the developed world. By 2020, more than 4,000 GWh of electricity will be consumed by plug-in EVs annually in the US alone. New services are already combining EVs with stationary storage and other renewable energy offerings to optimize regional supply and demand. The smart charging of swarms of managed EVs will enable greater concentrations of rooftop solar, as charging will be staggered outside of peak times and will be matched to distributed generation.

The city of 2030 will need to manage a much more complex set of interdependencies between diverse aspects of city operations, infrastructure, and platforms. This requires new networks for collaboration between cities, utilities, and other energy sector players, as well as transportation providers, building owners, telecommunication companies, and technology suppliers. Navigant Research estimates that this will create a market worth more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade for smart services across urban energy, buildings, mobility, and other city operations.

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